Sabarimala board struggles to implement SC verdict, parties wary of fallout
With the Supreme Court throwing open the doors of Kerala’s Sabarimala temple to women of all ages, the Travancore Devasom Board (TDB) is examining its options on implementing the order which could see the number of pilgrims to the hilltop shrine increase significantly and require additional infrastructure. It is also considering filing a review petition against the verdict.
Following a five-judge constitution bench of the apex court deciding 4:1 on Friday to lift the ban on women aged between 10 and 50, the TDB said it was expecting a 30 per cent hike in devotees during the three-month pilgrimage season starting in November.
The board, which manages the hilltop temple in the Pathanamthitta district, may seek for more time to implement the order or advise the state government and tantri (head priest) Rajeevaru Kandararu to keep the temple open round the year to ease the rush of devotees.
As the tantri had earlier shot down the second option, it is difficult to convince him, sources with the TDB said.
With the shrine situated in Periyar Tiger Reserve, which is a habitat for both tigers and elephants, space is a big constraint for TDB in augmenting pilgrim facilities in view of women’s entry, which will need more area for separate queues and rest facilities.
The verdict also comes as the TDB copes with the destruction let loose by the devastating floods, the worst in a century. The temple’s base camp Pambha, was completely destroyed after river Pambha changed its course.
After its initial response welcoming the judgment, the state’s Left Democratic Front government is reportedly worried after many Hindu outfits are out on a campaign saying a “non-believers’ government” (referring to the Marxists’ perceived atheism) played a key role in changing the customs. Some groups even called a ‘Jallikettu model’ movement, referring to the bull-taming custom in Tamil Nadu which was banned by the Supreme Court but continued after protests by youth groups, leading to the state government passing a law allowing it.
While Kerala’s previous Congress regime had favoured a status quo on the Sabarimala issue, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government had supported the move to open doors for women of all ages.
“I don’t think any women from my family will rush to the temple when it opens doors,” TDB president A Padmakumar, also a former legislator of the CPI (M), said after meeting Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday.
There are reports that some TDB members favour a review petition in the Supreme Court. Sabarimala’s tantri , considered last word in temple rites, and the Pandalam royal family, which are involved in temple affairs, had expressed displeasure over the verdict. The TDB president said he will meet both to discuss the matter.
After supporting the verdict initially, now opposition Congress and BJP have asked the temple body to file a review petition.
“We have to go by the apex court verdict. At the same time, we have to factor in practical difficulties and social impact. The state government is playing a double game. It is better to file a review petition,” said leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala, of the Congress.
Two organisations - the Sabarimala Samrakshana Samiti and former VHP leader Praveen Togadia’s Antharashtra Hindu Parishad - have called blocking of all national and state highways in the state on October 2 demanding enactment of legislation to protect customs and rituals of Sabarimala.
Fearing fringe outfits may hijack the emotional religious issue, all political parties in the state are in a quandary.While the national leadership of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have lauded the verdict, their state units complain the ground situation and social issues were overlooked in the name of gender equality.
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